Right-wing media are encouraging Republican senators to filibuster gun violence prevention legislation, continuing a long history of trying to influence GOP politics through recommended obstructionism.
Kathleen Parker, a conservative opinion writer, argued against bans on high-capacity magazines by claiming that "several small magazines" were used in the Columbine High School and Virginia Tech massacres -- even though high-capacity magazines were used in both shootings -- and also falsely suggested that banning assault weapons would necessitate banning all semi-automatic firearms.
In an April 9 column in The Washington Post, Parker falsely suggested that the shooters in those incidents did not use high-capacity magazines:
Limiting the size of magazines also seems like a common-sense solution. Then again, maybe a killer simply would carry several small magazines and swap them out, as Eric Harris did at Columbine High School in 1999 and Seung-Hui Cho did at Virginia Tech in 2007. Harris was armed with a Hi-Point 995 carbine with 13 magazines of 10 rounds each. His partner, Dylan Klebold, carried a semi-automatic handgun and a short-barrel shotgun, which, gun experts will tell you, is the most effective close-range weapon of all. And Cho used two handguns that are not considered "assault weapons."
But like assault weapons, some handguns accept high-capacity magazines. In the 1999 Columbine massacre, where two gunmen killed 13 and injured 21, Dylan Klebold attacked his classmates with an Intratec TEC-9 assault pistol and was found to have brought 52-, 32- and 28-round magazines into the school. Of the 67 rounds fired by Klebold, 55 were fired by the TEC-9, which Klebold was observed carrying -- equipped with a high-capacity magazine -- in an infamous security camera still taken during the shooting. On April 17, 2007 Seung-Hui Cho used two handguns to kill 32 and injure 17 at Virginia Tech. During the shooting, Cho fired 174 rounds from 10- and 15-round magazines. A ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) would ban any ammunition feeding device that is capable of accepting more than 10 rounds, the same limit contained in the previous assault weapons ban which expired in 2004.
Parents of some of the children killed in the December 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School have advocated for a ban on high-capacity magazines after being told by authorities that a number of children were able to escape the shooter when he paused to reload. At a press conference in support of a Connecticut proposal to ban high-capacity magazines in that state, Mark Barden, whose son was killed in the mass shooting, explained, "The more times you have to reload the more opportunities there are to escape and to stop the shooting. In the amount of time -- it was somewhere around four minutes -- he was able to fire 154 rounds. I think that speaks volumes about reducing the size [of magazines]."
Despite the fact that Americans, including gun owners and Republicans, are lending historic levels of support to President Obama's endorsed proposal to expand background checks for all gun purchases, the list of Republican senators vowing the filibuster any such bill expanded this week: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell became the 14th Republican to pledge not to allow a vote on any proposed gun legislation to take place on the floor of U.S. Senate.
In the end, it seems the attempted blockade to halt debate on the legislation has failed. But the Republicans' obstructionist strategy was no surprise, considering the party quickly coalesced around that dead-end tactic in early 2009. It's an unprecedented approach they've adopted to essentially proudly oppose anything endorsed by the White House, including, cabinet nominees and emergency relief packages.
That's now a given. What continues to shock is the extent to which the press in the weeks leading up to the pending gun vote played along with the Republican intransigence. What's distressing is how Beltway pundits largely gave Republicans a free pass and instead focused its blame on Democrats for failing to change Republicans behavior; for getting "cocky" and missing "their window" following the school massacre in Newtown, CT. And for "grasping at straws."
Routinely, we saw gun narratives that found fault primarily with the president: If only Obama had acted sooner, or proposed different legislation, or talked more often to Republicans, or not held public events in support of new gun laws. If Obama had just done everything differently, pundits suggested, he would've been able to win substantial Republican support and been able to easily secure passage of new gun control legislation.
That's because, despite four years of relentless obstruction, much of the press still hasn't budged from its preferred, naïve premise that, collectively, Republicans are routinely open to compromise, that they're honest brokers, and that it's Obama's job to just figure out how to get them to say yes. (Why won't he just lead?)
In the end, Democrats in the Senate this week may succeed in brokering a deal on gun legislation. As of now, Democrats will at least be able to bring the issue up for discussion in the Senate, which actually constitutes a major victory amidst the Republicans' blanket of no. But it's odd Democrats have so often been the focus of the press' attention, when Republicans are the ones standing in the way.
By the way, how radical of a shift is today's GOP behavior on guns? In 1999, 31 Senate Republicans voted in favor of mandating background checks at gun shows. And in 1994, 42 House Republicans voted for President Bill Clinton's crime bill, which included a ban on assault weapons.
But little of that matters now.
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent made several inflammatory remarks about the Obama administration during an interview on NRA News, including doubling down on his previous claim that he will be "dead or in jail" if the president was reelected.
During an April 8 interview on NRA News, Nugent also accused the Obama administration of engaging in "jack-booted thuggery" and complained that not enough was done to stop the reelection of Obama, asking, "When I kick the door down in the enemy's camp, would you help me shoot somebody?" Nugent clarified that his reference to shooting people was "a metaphor" and that he's "not recommending shooting anybody."
Nugent told a gathered crowd at the NRA's annual meeting in April 2012 that, "If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year. Why are you laughing? Do you think that's funny? That's not funny at all. I'm serious as a heart attack." He concluded his remarks with a call for the audience to "ride into that battlefield and chop [Democrats] heads off in November."
Nugent, who is also a columnist for birther website WND, brought up those past comments after NRA News host Cam Edwards falsely claimed that proposed background check legislation would make it so "any time somebody went to your ranch and you loaned them a gun to do some hunting or to do some plinking that would be a five year felony." According to Nugent, those who laughed at him for saying that "if this America-hater, if this freedom-hater, if this enemy of America becomes the president again I'll either be dead or in jail" were ignoring the threat of "draconian felonies":
From the April 8 edition of Current TV's Talking Liberally with Stephanie Miller:
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Fox News psychiatrist Keith Ablow erroneously claimed that recently enacted state legislation failed to address firearm access for individuals with mental health problems who have been deemed a danger to themselves or others. Ablow also fearmongered that proponents of gun violence prevention legislation would like to "disarm the whole population."
In fact, legislative packages enacted in New York and Connecticut specifically address mental health and the U.S. Senate gun violence prevention legislative package has a provision to improve records of individuals with mental health problems who have been deemed a danger to themselves or others. Furthermore, no state proposals involve disarming gun owners; instead new state-level gun laws have included bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines as well as expanded background checks.
During the April 5 edition of America's Newsroom on Fox News, Ablow seriously mischaracterized gun violence prevention legislation when he told host Bill Hemmer that recently enacted gun violence prevention packages did not address mental health:
HEMMER: Whether it's Colorado, whether it's the push for gun laws in New York or Connecticut that we saw this week, with Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook, or the national gun push that we're seeing. Is there anything in those laws that would prevent a future [James] Holmes or Adam Lanza when it comes to mental health that you see?
ABLOW: So let me be exactly clear. Zero. Zero. Our shattered shoddy slipshod mental health care system is the thing that needs attention. The folks who are piggybacking on these tragedies and saying it's guns are simply exercising a political agenda getting nothing done.
Ablow - who heavily criticized the alleged failure of Holmes' psychiatrist to notify the proper authorities of her patient's dangerousness - is wrong.
The National Rifle Association's Connecticut lobbyist said the state's new gun laws are "a real shame" and "a disservice to what happened and the children" who were killed in the December 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
On April 4, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed gun violence prevention legislation into law, which included expanded background checks and a strengthened assault weapons ban among other measures.
NRA lobbyist John Hohenwarter's comments, which were made on the April 3 edition of the NRA's news program Cam & Company, were a reaction to reports that the Connecticut legislature was moving to pass a gun violence prevention package:
HOHENWARTER: [I'm] not very optimistic. I think the saddest part of this day is not the fact that they are throwing the Second Amendment under the bus up there, but the fact that there's not going to be a family or child safer because of it.
CAM EDWARDS, HOST: Well, absolutely, John. And, you know, that's the sad thing is that when you look at these measures, I mean, we keep hearing people say, "Oh, this is going to make us safer," but yet they never say how. Instead, when you ask how, then it turns into an argument of shame on you for not supporting these bills, shame on you for not supporting these things that will make us safer. But they never explain how these will work to reduce violent crime, how these will work to prevent another tragedy, another massacre like what we saw in Newtown, Connecticut.
HOHENWARTER: Well, they can't explain it, you know. We have, just in the last hour two members that are now - at one time were no votes - that are now yes votes, because they believe the bill because it doesn't have confiscation in it is a better bill. So they are voting on a bad bill because it doesn't have confiscation in it. I mean, this bill, basically, takes you to a point that the only thing they're doing is not melting guns down now in the state of Connecticut. And it's a real shame, because it's a disservice to what happened and the children and the tragedy to see them push through a policy like this. And it's Obamacare all over. It's a 139 page bill in which probably 90 percent of them never read the bill. [emphasis added]
In February, Think Progress called attention to a comment made by a lobbyist for a Wisconsin NRA-affiliated group that the NRA's agenda in that state would was "going to be delayed as the 'Connecticut effect' has to go through the process."
Fox News' The Five claimed that the U.S. has the lowest gun-related murder rate in the world and that public opinion is turning against President Obama on gun control, ignoring that the U.S. has a higher gun homicide rate than other developed nations, and that a vast majority of Americans favor expanded background checks on gun purchases.
From the April 4 edition of Fox News' America Live:
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Right-wing blogs took President Obama's comments about gun violence prevention out of context to claim that he complained about being constrained by the Constitution. The full text of his comments, however, shows that he was praising the genius of the document rather than lamenting that the Second Amendment prevents him from confiscating guns.
On April 3, President Obama gave a speech in Colorado to raise support for strengthening gun laws following the passage of new gun violence prevention measures in the state. During his speech, Obama attempted to put gun owners' possible concerns over these measures to rest:
One last thing I'm going to mention is that during this conversation -- I hope you don't mind me quoting you, Joe. Joe Garcia, I thought, also made an important point, and that is that the opponents of some of these common-sense laws have ginned up fears among responsible gun owners that have nothing to do with what's being proposed and nothing to do with the facts, but feeds into this suspicion about government.
You hear some of these quotes: "I need a gun to protect myself from the government." "We can't do background checks because the government is going to come take my guns away."
Well, the government is us. These officials are elected by you. (Applause.) They are elected by you. I am elected by you. I am constrained, as they are constrained, by a system that our Founders put in place. It's a government of and by and for the people.
And so, surely, we can have a debate that's not based on the notion somehow that your elected representatives are trying to do something to you other than potentially prevent another group of families from grieving the way the families of Aurora or Newtown or Columbine have grieved. We've got to get past some of the rhetoric that gets perpetuated that breaks down trust and is so over the top that it just shuts down all discussion. And it's important for all of us when we hear that kind of talk to say, hold on a second. If there are any folks who are out there right now who are gun owners, and you've been hearing that somehow somebody is taking away your guns, get the facts. We're not proposing a gun registration system, we're proposing background checks for criminals. (Applause.)
Don't just listen to what some advocates or folks who have an interest in this thing are saying. Look at the actual legislation. That's what happened here in Colorado. And hopefully, if we know the facts and we're listening to each other, then we can actually move forward.
The next day, Fox Nation claimed that Obama "complain[ed] he's 'constrained' by the Constitution" in his speech, linking to an article from The Blaze that also failed to provide the full text of his comments:
Breitbart.com's Ben Shapiro similarly wrote on April 3 that "[t]he natural inference [of Obama's remarks] seems to be that if it were not for the Constitution, Obama would indeed pursue a federal gun seizure. Like the villain at the end of every Scooby Doo cartoon, Obama's offhand protest suggests that if it weren't for those darn kids, he would have gotten away with it. Except that the kids are the founders, and 'it' is massive gun control."
But the full transcript of Obama's speech shows that he never expressed a desire to confiscate Americans' firearms or lamented that the Second Amendment prevents him from doing so. In fact, he was approvingly citing the Constitution's protection of individual rights while telling people to be informed about the new gun legislation instead of succumbing to gun proponents' claims that guns will be taken away, and he reminded voters that they could hold the government accountable at the ballot box if they felt their rights were threatened.
One of the mantras of the American gun lobby, and one repeated constantly by its right-wing media allies, is the absolutist view that new gun restrictions aren't needed because they won't work. That argument is often quickly joined by the fatalistic view that there's nothing we can really do to cut down number of gun deaths in America; that government regulations, including expanded background checks for all gun purchases, would have no impact.
Both views have been on constant display as President Obama urges Congress to take action and pass new control measures.
Fox News contributor Bill Kristol last week insisted he'd seen "zero analysis, zero argument" that any of the proposed regulations would "make any appreciable difference in reducing gun violence and murders." On CNN, conservative Dana Loesch claimed "we have gun laws already on the books," and that new gun proposals would simply represent redundancies.
The companion case to right-wing claim is that gun control regulations won't reduce deaths is that the only way to achieve that goal is to have more guns in circulation will achieve that goal. (That argument is false. Obviously.)
But the clear flaw in the anti-regulation claim is that new government rules have been credited in recent years with drastically reducing the number of U.S. fatalities surrounding another potentially dangerous consumer product: Automobiles.
Look at the data: In 2011, the number of people killed in traffic accidents fell to 32,367, the lowest annual U.S. tally since 1949. (Automotive deaths peaked in 1972, with 54,589.) That decline came despite the fact that in over the last five-plus decades the number of drivers on American roads has exploded: 62 million then vs. 210 million now.
More recently, vehicular deaths plummeted 25 percent between 2005 and 2011, according to the Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (Those numbers rose in 2012, ending a seven-year decline.)
What do experts point to for the recent overall reduction in automotive deaths? They credit, in part, state and federal efforts, often done in tandem with car manufacturers, which have made the potentially dangerous act of driving much less deadly.
From CNN in 2011 [emphasis added]:
Experts attribute the change to a variety of reasons, including changes to cars -- such as vehicle rollover protection -- and programs to change driver behavior -- such as campaigns addressing drunk driving, distracted driving and seat belt use. Laws aimed at young people also likely have had an impact, notably older minimum drinking ages and graduated drivers' licenses.
In other words, government regulations have helped dramatically reduce the number of vehicular fatalities in recent years. By treating driving as the obvious public safety issue that it is, and after new regulations were put in place in an effort to improve product safety and consumer behavior, the number of fatalities quickly dropped. Impelled by federal regulations, car manufacturers have made a concerted effort to make their products more safe via air bags, anti-rollover technology, and stronger vehicle roofs. For decades however, automakers waged the "regulatory equivalent of war" against the government's push for airbags and other safety initiatives. Today, those same manufacturers aggressively market new safety features to consumers.
Could a similar government push, aided by manufacturer cooperation, produce a comparable decline in gun deaths? Public safety experts insist the answer is yes. "Absolutely," says Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis.
The New York Times covered up the extremism of the fringe gun lobby organization Gun Owners of America (GOA) in an article highlighting the group's influence with Republican politicians.
Notably, the Times reported only that the group's leader, Larry Pratt, "worked briefly for Patrick J. Buchanan's 1996 presidential campaign." While it's true that he "worked briefly" for Buchanan's campaign, the Times left out the reason Pratt's role was short-lived: he stepped down as co-chair of the campaign in response to reports that he had attended meetings organized by right-wing militia leaders and white supremacists.
The article describes GOA as an "upstart group" that has a "rising profile" and is "increasingly potent" because of its "loud" advocacy tactics on positions that "tend to veer farther right than those of the" National Rifle Association. It includes praise for the group from Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Dean Heller (R-NV) and reports that the organization has been successful in "freezing senators, particularly Republicans" from taking positions in support of gun violence prevention legislation.
But the Times ignored the extremism of the group's leadership and the bizarre conspiracies they have adopted. The article describes Pratt, the organization's executive director, as follows:
Mr. Pratt, 70, has long been active in Republican politics. He served in the Virginia legislature in the 1980s, and he worked briefly for Patrick J. Buchanan's 1996 presidential campaign.
That description of Pratt's service with Buchanan is inadequate, as the Times' reporting from February 18, 1996, indicates (via Nexis, emphasis added):
Last week, Larry Pratt, a co-chairman of the Buchanan campaign, took a leave of absence after the disclosure that he had spoken at rallies held by leaders of the white supremacist and militia movements.
Mr. Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said in an interview that he did not know the other speakers. He also said he did not harbor anti-Semitic or racist views, although his articles on gun ownership often appear in The Jubilee, a tabloid published in California by leaders of the Christian Identity movement, a white supremacist organization.
Fox News host Mike Huckabee warned on his radio show that the government could be planning to confiscate firearms in order to launch a dictatorship after a caller compared conditions in the United States today to those in Nazi Germany.
On the April 3 edition of The Mike Huckabee Show, Huckabee defended a caller's claim about firearm confiscation in Nazi Germany as "the truth." He added, "In every society and culture where dictators take over, one of the things they have to do is get control of the military and the police and ultimately all of the citizens and make sure the citizens are disarmed and can't fight in the streets. Gosh I hope it doesn't come to that."
According to Huckabee, if the government were to confiscate privately owned firearms, "there's not a whole lot we can do about it other than just plan to die in the course of resistance":
CALLER: I'm very concerned, it seems like there's so many people who have not read and do not understand how quickly Germany was turned into, it was a democracy, then turned into a dictatorship by everyone having to register their guns and then they went door to door and collected them.
HUCKABEE: People do forget that. And by the way, [caller] know, that when you bring that up you get people who get crazy on us, and they'll start saying, "Oh there you go comparing to the Nazis." And I understand the reaction, but it's the truth. You cannot take people's rights away if they're resisting and if they have the means to resist, but once they're disarmed and the people who are trying to take over have all the power, not just political, not just financial, but they have the physical power to domesticate us and to subjugate us to our will there's not a whole lot we can do about it other than just plan to die in the course of resistance. It's very true [caller], and I appreciate you bringing it up. I know that people are probably calling and saying you know you shouldn't have brought that up. In every society and culture where dictators take over, one of the things they have to do is get control of the military and the police and ultimately all of the citizens and make sure the citizens are disarmed and can't fight in the streets. Gosh I hope it doesn't come to that.
The Senate legislative package to reduce gun violence does not involve the confiscation of firearms, instead it calls for expanding background checks, adding missing records to the current background check system, cracking down on gun trafficking, and improving school security.
Huckabee's acceptance of the caller's view of what happened in Nazi Germany as "the truth" is also ahistorical. As Salon's Alex Seitz-Wald noted in a January 11 article, "the notion that Hitler confiscated everyone's guns is mostly bogus." In fact, Hitler loosened gun laws for his political allies while banning firearms for the people he wished to oppress, which is an indictment of fascistic policies -- not gun violence prevention laws.
THE UNITED NATIONS -- On the day the Arms Trade Treaty was scheduled to face a consensus vote by 193 countries, ending the years-long process to establish an international agreement to curtail arms trafficking to nations torn by conflict, I listened to a member of the Liberian delegation explain his country's concerns. "We wanted a much tighter treaty," he said, referring the large group of African countries most affected by the global black market arms trade. "Those of us who live in countries devastated by civil war very clearly understand the need for a strong regulatory framework to deter non-state actors from getting weapons. This is why we wanted a mechanism for risk-assessment, and why we wanted penalties."
Without the view from Liberia, it's hard to understand yesterday's headlines about the General Assembly's approval of the treaty. Which is why during two weeks of negotiations last month, African delegations could often be seen chatting with media from around the world. On the last day of the conference especially, the North Lawn building buzzed with reporters seeking perspectives. There were Russian and Arab TV crews, Japanese magazine journalists, and writers from at least half a dozen African publications. The U.S. media presence, hailing from the world's largest arms exporter, was harder to find. Which is to say, it was nearly impossible to find.
In two weeks of commingling with ATT delegates and observers, the only American reporters I met were Ginny Simone, the face of NRA News, and Richard Johnson, a freelancer who has covered the U.N. since Brezhnev, most recently for an obscure website called South-South News. "In terms of media, it's gotten pretty sleepy around here," said Johnson, before recounting the glory days of the 1970s. "Now it's more about Twitter than press conferences. The institutional media only flocks when North Korea does something, or there's drama in the Security Council."
This lack of media presence was reflected in the pages of the nation's largest newspapers, which largely ignored the treaty negotiations. The Washington Post was a no-show. So was The Wall Street Journal. The Los Angeles Times reported from the West Coast on a State Department press release and published a story on the treaty's passage credited to "Times Staff and Wire Reports."
Lapping the field, The New York Times published three full-length reports with a U.N. dateline, two news briefs, and a table-setting piece at the start of the treaty conference. The paper benefits from investing in a full-time UN beat reporter, Neil MacFarquhar, as well as a New York-based foreign desk writer who covers the body, Rick Gladstone; the LA Times, by contrast, dispatches a New York-based reporter when they deem it necessary.
None of the major broadcast networks appear to have found the treaty worthy of even a passing mention on their airwaves. Nor did CNN, the cable network historically most interested in world news. The only major cable news channel to show up was Fox News, which relied so heavily on NRA talking points for its anti-treaty coverage that the dishes on its sat-truck outside the UN gate reminded one of turrets on an enemy tank.
The dearth of media interest runs counter to the last month's historic events, as the U.N. finally capped two decades of study groups and negotiations spanning most of the continents. On Tuesday 154 countries defied the National Rifle Association and voted yea on a treaty with aspirations to do for global arms flows what a similar majority of Americans wants done for the domestic gun market: put regulations in place to stop zealots, criminals, and terrorists from acquiring weapons and wreaking havoc. The resulting treaty is not perfect, but represents what advocates call a crucial first step in staunching the flood of lethal weapons to conflict sites around the world.
Several members of a National Rifle Association-assembled taskforce to prevent gun violence in schools, which proposed increasing the number of armed individuals in schools, are employed by a firm that provides training and gear, including ammunition, to security personnel.
On April 2, the National School Shield Task Force, headed by former Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR), released a report on improving school safety after being directed by the NRA to compose a series of recommendations to reduce violence in schools. During a press conference announcing the release of the report, Hutchinson repeatedly claimed that the recommendations in the report were not subject to NRA approval and are "fully independent from the NRA":
Hutchinson stressed that the "initiative" is fully independent from the NRA -- which he said budgeted $1 million for the effort -- and that the pro-gun lobby was under no obligation to enforce any of its recommendations.
"The NRA has fulfilled its side of the bargain and has given us the level of independence," he said. "These recommendations are the recommendations of task force. This is our event, and the NRA will separately consider and respond to it."
In fact, the report presents a clear conflict of interest as five of the 13 named members of the taskforce are employees of Phoenix RBT Solutions, including the company's CEO. RBT Solutions is a global non-lethal ammunition distributor. According to their website, the company is a global distributor for Ultimate Training Munitions, a type of wax round specifically marketed by RBT Solutions to private security and law enforcement. RBT Solutions also sells a wide array training and defensive gear for security personnel and rents a "portable training facility."
The report includes training guides developed in part by RBT Solutions for school resource officers and other armed school personnel that call for a minimum of 40 hours of training.
The National School Shield Task Force, beyond advocating for an increased armed security presence in schools, also recommends that schools be able to decide whether staff can receive training to carry a firearm in school.
In the "best practices guidelines" section, the report discusses the "potential benefits" to arming "teachers, principals, or custodial staff," while also noting the high level of training that these individuals would need to receive: